The South Carolina House of Representatives will meet an hour earlier Wednesday as the body debates its first controversial legislation to reach the floor in 2011.
H.3003 would require a photo ID for anyone voting in an election in South Carolina. It passed the House Judiciary Committee last week by a 13-7 vote along party lines. Republicans say it will help stop voter fraud. Democrats say it makes the process more difficult for legitimate voters. The bill would allow those currently without a state drivers license to get a free photo identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Democrats also criticize a section of the bill that requires all absentee ballots to be filed by paper only. That would eliminate in-person absentee voting, which allows those with an excuse to vote absentee on a machine (rather than by paper ballot) up to 30 days before an election. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) says in-person absentee voting is sometimes abused and hurts the integrity of election day.
Also in the House:
— The House unanimously cleared the way for a joint resolution to amend the state constitution to require more on the record voting. While the House has already passed a bill that would statutorily require roll-call votes (and the Senate has agreed to change its rules), many legislators say the new rules could be overturned by a future legislature. They maintain only a constitutional amendment would guarantee the process in the long-term.
If the Senate also approves the resolution, South Carolina voters would be able to vote on the matter in a 2012 referendum.
— The House also unanimously approved a bill that would exempt schools from paying impact fees on any new construction. Impact fees are usually used by local governments to pay for utility services extended to new buildings. Under current law, affordable housing developments are the only new construction exempt from the fees. Sponsor Rep. Jim Merrill (R-Berkeley) said that having schools pay the fees would be redundant, since schools are largely funded by taxpayers, anyway.
— Several bills will now head to the House floor after being approved by the Education and Public Works Committee. Included among them is the Higher Education Transparency Act, which requires all of the state’s public colleges and universities to post their monthly expenditures online. The bill, which has been heavily promoted by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, passed both a subcommittee and full committee on the same day.
—One bill that did not clear committee was H.3246, which would ban the sale of alcoholic energy drinks in South Carolina. The House Judiciary Committee agreed to delay the vote afte Rep. James Smith (D-Richland) expressed concern the bill’s language could unintentionally lead to a ban on some types of mixed drinks.
— Lawmakers on the House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee blocked a request by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to charge higher fees to regulate low-level nuclear material. DHEC said it needs to raise its fees to maintain the program, which oversees some medical equipment, among other things. It warned the program would be taken over by a federal agency if DHEC could not find adequate funding.
Committee members said they do not see strong enough evidence to justify the fee increases. Members voted to send the proposal back to a subcommittee for more hearings.